CHICAGO — After he shot his way into a home in the small town of Manchester, Ill., police say Rick Odell Smith gunned down a great-grandmother, a young couple and three young children. Then he did something that puzzled authorities.
He scooped up one of the children, a 6-year-old girl who was still alive, and carried her to a neighbor’s home. Then he jumped into his white Chevy Lumina and sped off. Police caught up with him hours later and he died in a gunfight with officers.
State Police Lt. Col. Todd Kilby couldn’t explain Smith’s apparent concern for the girl. “All I have is that it was a neighbor” who took her in, he told reporters.
A source said the man told the neighbor to take her to a hospital. The neighbor called police.
The girl, Kassidy Ralston, remained in serious condition at a hospital in Springfield with facial injuries, according to family and a source.
The girl’s great-grandmother, her parents and her younger brothers all died in the rampage. While officials have not released their names, relatives identified them as Joanne Sinclair, 65; Brittany Luark, 22; her boyfriend Roy Ralston; Nolan Ralston, 5; and Brantley Ralston, 1.
Smith, 43, approached the family’s home southwest of Springfield shortly before dawn, around 4:30 a.m. Police said he used a shotgun to blast through a back door, and was also armed with a hunting rifle with a scope and a large hunting knife.
Smith shot the people with the shotgun at close range, police said.
Roy Ralston was found in a hallway of the home, the two boys in a bedroom and Sinclair and Luark in another bedroom, Kilby said.
“The guy broke into the house,” said Brad Teeter, Sinclair’s son-in-law. “I couldn’t tell you about the guy, never met him, never seen him, never talked to him. He apparently broke into the home of my wife’s mother and shot everybody inside.
“I’m at a loss right now,” Teeter said.
State police would not comment on a possible motive. But a neighbor of Smith said the gunman had been going through a custody battle with Sinclair’s daughter over their 4-year-old child. Neither she nor the girl were in the home at the time of the shooting, according to authorities and the family.
“He was under a lot of stress. ... There was a lot of problems with custody with the daughter,” said the neighbor near his home in Roodhouse.
The neighbor said Smith had lived with the woman at his home until recently. The neighbor said the two had been together for about five years.
The neighbor said Smith worked as a jack of all trades. “He did odd jobs for people, he could fix anything. He was a really hard worker,” the neighbor said.
The neighbor said Smith had custody of their daughter fairly often but “I know there was a lot of friction with (her) family.”
An all-points bulletin was issued for Smith, and he was arrested around 7:30 a.m. after a brief chase. Police said that when Smith exited his car he began shooting at police who returned fire and struck Smith. He was taken in critical condition to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:10 a.m., police said.
A Winchester woman said she turned on the police scanner at her home around 7 a.m. after learning her children’s school was closed because of an emergency. She heard a police chase on the scanner and realized the shooting suspect was approaching her home.
She went outside and saw a white car cruise by, chased by about three or four police cars. After the car went by, it spun out and crashed about a half-mile away. Then she heard a volley of gunshots.
“It’s a tragic thing, you don’t ever think it will happen close to home,” the woman said.
Manchester Village President Ron Drake, 66, said he was alerted around 4:45 a.m. by a page asking Scott County officials to respond to a multiple shooting. As he approached the scene, authorities told him the suspect was his nephew.
Drake said Smith was the son of his wife’s sister and that the shootings have “devastated” the family. Drake said he had not spoken to Smith in about two years and said Smith had not spoken to his mother since August.
He said Smith was unemployed but there were no warning signs that something like this would happen.
“The last time I talked to him, he was real decent and everything,” Drake said. “It’s devastating, people in the community I talked to just think it’s a tragedy. We have to work together and bring it back to where it was before.”
“We’re just going to have to press on and ask the Lord to help us go on,” he said.
Police said Smith had been arrested in the past for reckless homicide, but details were not available. Drake was unaware of his nephew’s criminal background.
Police said the last homicide reported in Scott County was in 1993. These are the first murders in the town of 300 in the 43 years Drake has lived there.
“I’ve lived here for 43 years and my wife’s lived here for all of her life and there’s never been a homicide.”
Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed to this report.
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